SINGAPORE: Details of the alleged deal behind the leaks that spawned claims about the misappropriation of billions at a Malaysian state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) may well unravel in the High Court in Singapore.
Swiss national Xavier Andre Justo, the man allegedly behind the leaks, is suing the owner of Malaysia's The Edge media group Tong Kooi Ong and two others for damages.
Justo claims that he handed over two data storage drives in Mr Tong's presence at a Fullerton Hotel meeting in February last year in return for US$2 million (S$2.7 million) - money which he never received.
He wants the items - which contain data about global oil services firm PetroSaudi and its business partner 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) - to be returned and for any copies to be destroyed, according to court documents filed last November.
Tong denies the claims and argues that Justo is not entitled to the items as he was "widely reported to have confessed to have stolen the data from PetroSaudi", according to defence papers filed by his lawyer Doris Chia.
Justo, 48, who worked for PetroSaudi International (UK) as an IT manager until April 2011,is serving a three-year jail term in Thailand for attempted extortion and blackmail of his former employer.
The information from Justo is linked to claims in The Sarawak Report, an online blog, about the misappropriation of billions at Malaysian state investment firm 1MDB. The Edge, a Malaysian publication, also published several articles on 1MDB.
Justo claimed that the deal was inked partly in a document in February last year titled "Sale Of Justo Property IT Software", affirmed by himself and Tong.
He also cited WhatsApp exchanges between Tong, two other people and himself as evidence, as well as meetings in Bangkok and Singapore between himself and Tong and/or others. These allegedly included two meetings with Ms Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the owner and editor of The Sarawak Report, in a Bangkok hotel in 2014.
The court action follows repeated demands by Justo for payment by Tong.
Justo also seeks to obtain the names and particulars of all who had access to the data.
Justo, represented by lawyer Suresh Damodara, also wants a court order to ensure the return or destruction of all copies made.
Tong, in defence papers filed, admitted signing the letter at a Feb 23 meeting at Fullerton Hotel, which he said was done at Justo's request. But he denied that he was part of any WhatsApp messaging group with Justo.
Tong conceded that Justo did ask him for payment once via WhatsApp but he did not pay.
He denied having induced Justo into delivering the data drives with the payout offered.
Tong's lawyers also wrote to PetroSaudi last year to invite them as a party to the action or include them as a party.
Alternatively, Tong would seek court direction on the ownership of the data drives and whether these and all the copies should be handed over to Justo and his firm.
Last December, Tong succeeded in obtaining a court order for S$50,000 to be placed as security for costs incurred so far in the High Court against Justo and his firm for the action to proceed. This was on the grounds that Justo was usually not in Singapore.
The case was stayed until security was provided via a lawyer's undertaking in January.
Two other defendants named in the suit have not entered an appearance or filed their defences. It is understood they have not been served with the court papers.
Tong argued that there are no reasonable grounds for Justo's claims. A pre-trial conference is due this week.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.